Natural Gas Powered Cars get a Boost

Wednesday, October 16, 2013 @ 12:10 PM gHale

Graphene is capable of blocking almost everything and companies are already taking advantage of the capabilities by adapting these characteristics to applications like filtration and desalinization. But there is much more to come.

Graphene’s impermeability also makes it a fit for cars that run on natural gas, said researchers at Rice University.

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Right now, natural gas packs away into heavy metal tanks that end up stored somewhere on a car. The researchers were able to combine plastic and graphene to create a plastic tank capable of holding natural gas. These lighter plastic tanks could make cars more efficient by lowering the amount of fuel they need.

“The idea is to increase the toughness of the tank and make it impermeable to gas,” said Rice chemist James Tour. “This becomes increasingly important as automakers think about powering cars with natural gas. Metal tanks that can handle natural gas under pressure are often much heavier than the automakers would like.”

Because it is not yet affordable to manufacture sheets of graphene in bulk, the researchers turned to graphene nanoribbons. Nanoribbons end up manufactured by unzipping carbon nanotubes. Those nanotubes are really rolled up pieces of graphene. Carbon nanotube manufacturing ends up being more advanced than graphene manufacturing, as is graphene nanoribbon manufacturing.

Researchers then embed the nanoribbons in the plastic. While this combination is more permeable than a solid sheet of graphene, it is still 1,000 times harder for gas to escape than if the researchers used a plain plastic wall.

The researchers said their creation also can work for soda and beer bottles. Adding graphene to plastic bottles would extend the shelf life of soda before it goes flat. And, plastic bottles laced with graphene could keep beer fresh. Brewers do not use plastic bottles or beer now because oxygen can enter them, causing the suds to go bad.

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